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Board to discuss potential cuts in teaching positions

By Greg Gelpi

The day the music died could be tonight.

The Clayton County school system is considering cutting positions. Among those being considered are assistant band teachers, orchestra teachers, some physical education teachers and instructional technology specialists.

The school board will hold a meeting at 6:30 tonight, and among the items on the agenda is a discussion of the budget. The meeting will be at the Administrative Complex at 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro.

Nothing has been decided on the budget, Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis said. The only thing for certain is that the school system is considering all options.

"We're turning to the board (tonight)," Davis said. "There will be a lot more information after the meeting. We're looking at cuts from the assistant superintendents positions on down."

He said any cuts in positions would hopefully be balanced by attrition, so that no one would lose a job.

Many teachers, parents and students plan to be at the meeting to make their voices heard. Although there isn't a public comment session scheduled, some students plan to bring their instruments to be heard, said Tom McBrayer, a parent of two band students who follows the school board closely.

McBrayer sent a mass email to many parents and members of the community urging them to attend the school board meeting and petition the board to avoid cuts to fine arts programs.

"There are serious conflicts with what is being reported in the news media and what is being discussed by administrators," he said in his email. "Does this sound familiar? Is anyone else having a case of deja vu (all over again?) - this is too much like the contradictory and ?two-faced' actions of a year ago. I thought we had moved beyond this and were on our way to resolving many of the issues that had torn our county apart over the past months - what is being discussed only says things are about to become MUCH WORSE than we ever imagined."

McBrayer said there are a lot of unknowns, which are fueling concerns.

He said that it is well-documented that music and fine arts programs boost test scores and academic performance.

Principals met with their teachers last Monday to discuss budget concerns and the system's plans for dealing with a proposed $25 million shortfall for the fiscal year 2005. Originally, teachers had five days to consider the best way for their school to deal with the shortfall and provide feedback. That changed to less than three hours, as teachers had to provide feedback immediately after hearing a lengthy presentation on the budget situation.

"I interpret that as they pretty much had their minds made up and already knew the direction they wanted to go," Todd Manson, Jonesboro High School's band director, said.

Manson said a list of proposed cuts was read with assistant band director being at the top of the list followed by orchestra teachers.

On Wednesday, contracts were issued, he said, but his assistant band directors, the orchestra teacher and some PE teachers didn't receive contracts.

"This is a telling sign," Manson said. "We're trying to make everyone aware that we need these (fine art) positions in our schools. We're shocked and upset that they would even consider these cuts. The people it would really affect is the students."

Ed Scott, assistant superintendent for personnel, said the system sent some contracts out last week, but is holding off sending out all of the contracts until the General Assembly approves a budget. When a budget is approved, the school system will know if its budget will be under and if so how much. The $25 million projection is a worst case scenario based on proposed cuts.

Don Carson, a teacher of 22 years at the alternative school, said the teachers are left to wonder without much information coming from the school system.

"You keep people in the dark and they dream things up," Carson said. "We just don't know, and no one we ask seems to know."

Davis said the system would work on a "call back process" if positions are cut and funds later become available.